Five takeaways: Behind clutch shooting from Dion Waiters, Heat snap Celtics’ 16-game winning streak

Miami’s Tyler Johnson, Wayne Ellington and James Johnson react during the second half of the Heat’s 104-98 home victory over Boston Wednesday. Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI – The Miami Heat knew what was at stake, despite the season being just six weeks old.

After a listless, frustrating effort at home against the Pacers on Sunday, the Heat spent three days  soul searching. Tri-captain James Johnson said the Heat were in “code red” for Wednesday’s game against the streaking Boston Celtics.

And they responded.

Miami watched an 18-point lead cut to one in the final minutes before Dion Waiters took over and scored eight of Miami’s next 10 points to spark a 104-98 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The victory snaps Boston’s winning streak at 16 games. The Celtics (16-3) had not lost after starting the season 0-2.

“I don’t even care about the result right now,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s all about behavior and habits. Guys really brought a purity to the work, a focus, a discipline the past two days. Obviously this is a very good basketball team that we beat but it had nothing to do with that right now. It’s all about our behavior, our habits and our consistency before you even got to the final result.”

The Heat (8-9) were led by Goran Dragic’s 27 points. Waiters finished with 26, including eight points in the final 2:56.

Kyrie Irving led Boston with 23 points.

Here are our five takeaways:

Streak busters: Miami snapped two long streaks with its victory over Boston, but it wasn’t easy. The Celtics entered the game having won 16 in a row, the fourth longest winning streak in franchise history, and having defeated the Heat eight consecutive times. The last Heat victory over Boston was March 25, 2015. The Celtics had been dominant racing to the NBA’s best record, especially in the second half. Miami led by 18 in the first half and a 16-2 fourth-quarter run by the Celtics cut the Heat lead to 91-90 before Waiters took over.

“We needed to stop the bleeding by any means,” Waiters said. “I felt like we got great looks. Sometimes when the tide turns it’s hard. They made their run. Like I said, it’s a helluva team over there. It reminds us of us a lot in certain ways, the guard play, aggressive, the defense. It’s really just like two defensive teams going to war. I just feel like tonight we wanted it more.”

Irrational confidence: Waiters had his worst game as a member of the Heat on Sunday, missing all 10 of his shots and going scoreless for the first time since joining Miami. He vowed to continue to attack the rim and play with that “irrational confidence” as coach Erik Spoelstra calls it. So with the Heat frittering away an 18 point lead and Boston within one with about 3 1/2 minutes remaining, Waiters took over. His first three bounced high off the rim, hit the backboard and fell through to push the lead to four. Waiters then gave Miami a seven-point lead with another three before throwing down a dunk in the final minute. He finished 11-of-24 from the field and added six assists.

“He has great confidence,” Spoelstra said. “It’s about learning better decision making and responsibility with the ball during the course of the game to make plays for our team. I thought this was one of his better games throughout.”

Handle with care: One twist to Spoelstra’s substation pattern was pulling Dragic 4:50 into the game and getting him early rest. It worked. Dragic, who has been the Heat’s most consistent player this season, remained on the bench for the first two minutes of the second quarter before returning. He then scored 14 points in the final 10 minutes of the half along with four rebounds to help build a 13-point halftime lead. Dragic finished with a team-high 27 points on 8-of-17 shooting and got to the line 10 times, making nine. He added five rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes.

“Goran was great. Goran is a winner,” Spoelstra said. “What we’re trying to learn is winning habits. That’s all we’ve been talking about. We want to be more consistent on the court. It’s your professionalism, your approach, consistency with behavior and consistency with routine. I can go on and on and you can just put a picture of Goran Dragic. That’s why he is one of the most consistent guys not only on this team but in the league.”

Inspired effort: The Heat beat themselves up for the last three days, questioning their effort and essentially calling Wednesday’s game a gut check. Miami was a completely different team from the one that mailed it in during the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Pacers. Miami played with energy, especially on the defensive end, which in turn boosted the offense. Miami held Boston to 33.3 percent shooting in the first half to lead by 13 points and Celtics finished shooting 41.7 percent. The Heat entered Wednesday as the league’s seventh-best first-half team in terms of plus-minus at plus-44, but also the league’s worst second-half team at minus-87. The Celtics entered as the league’s best second half team with a plus-148. Boston outscored Miami, 57-50, in the second half but it wasn’t enough.

“In previous games, we struggled, especially in the third quarter,” Dragic said. “Tonight we came with a lot of energy. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes offensively and defensively. And you can see, we extended the lead. But we know that Boston is a great team that they’re going to make a run. But we were cool, we were calm. In the end, it was awesome.”

The road ahead: The Heat head out on another trip, though not as long as the six-games, 11-day journey earlier this month. This time, Miami will be on the road for four games over seven days to face three teams with winning records. The trip starts in Minnesota on Friday and takes them through Chicago (Sunday), Cleveland (Tuesday) and New York (Wednesday). The game against the Cavaliers will be the first time Miami faces Dwyane Wade in a Cleveland uniform and the first time Wade and LeBron James face their old team as teammates.

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